Three of DH Lawrence’s plays are presented as one in Husbands and Sons, a magnum opus of working-class drama set in the 20th century East Midlands.
Husbands and Sons doesn’t put too fine a point on things. Men are beasts. Mining is dreadful. Drink destroys lives. Women suffer horribly. There are no lovers in this play, only brutish ‘Husbands’. Life here is nauseatingly grim.
Inspired by his upbringing as the son of an illiterate labourer in turn-of-the-century Nottingham, Lawrence's classics consider the immense drama and hardship of lives led at the mercy of coal mining. Despite the masculine title, Ben Power's adaptation has women at the heart.
Condensed into one weighty three-hour play, the three stories illuminate each other. As each household contains its own tensions the cyclical sense of sons growing to husbands in a fatalistic emulation of their fathers, is striking — and hard to watch.
All of the action takes place in the kitchen, the women’s domain. Masterful stage designer Bunny Christie has created these three sculleries wonderfully; the women soothe their children in rocking chairs, fill cast iron kettles, stoke the coal burner, wash dishes. All three dwellings are surrounded by coal; the destroyer and preserver of the community
The acting is outstanding throughout: Lloyd Hutchinson, Martin Marquez and Luther Gascoigne exhibited the best on-stage drunkenness we’ve ever seen (it must’ve been fun getting in to character). The real star is, of course, Suffragette star Anne-Marie Duff, whose Lizzie Holroyd is whole and heartbreaking. But Duff's well-matched by Louise Brealey, who's simultaneously strong-minded and vulnerable as young wife Minnie.
Marianne Elliott's production is engrossing and elegant, snapping out of the domestic realism with moments of contemplative beauty and symbolism. The imminent repercussions of a pit tragedy flicker as all three women are jolted from housework to stand, in a trance upon the table.
The first act could have been shorter and less kitchen sink-y. But then, soap opera-style domestics are crucial for creating intimacy with the audience, which can then be converted to create emotional heft in the second act. It may not be the subtlest or most transcendental of plays, but it sure as hell packs a punch. Women be warned: it's enough to put you off marriage for good.
|What||REVIEW: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
19 Oct 15 – 19 Jan 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - 50|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|